Hebrew Language Day

"Hebrew without excuses - simple as that"! - Ze’ev Jabotinsky

 (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
During these days of distance learning the educational material that is not being taught in schools is finding a new space in the home. This is how I heard about an educational assignment given to my daughter, a ninth-grade student, on the subject of "Anglicism" of the Hebrew language. Anglicism refers to the increasing phenomenon of the use of the English language in a variety of areas of our lives that threatens to exclude many words from the Hebrew dialect, with some saying that it’s even threatening its existence. Many rightly fear that the Hebrew language will dwindle. However, in the State of Israel the Hebrew language does not face any real threat, nor the danger of becoming extinct. The main challenge we face is to preserve its status overseas to ensure that it continues to exist as a vital and important language for the Jewish communities in the Diaspora. The World Zionist Organization seeks to address this challenge. During the recent 38th World Zionist Congress an historic decision was made to place the Hebrew language at the forefront of its agenda and to establish a department that will solely focus on Hebrew culture and language.

The Hebrew language constitutes a cultural identity for the Jewish people living in Israel and the Diaspora, and is an integral part of their Jewish identity. The Hebrew language is a key element in creating national consciousness, and we must take practical steps for it to remain so. The Zionist movement institutions face many challenges, however passing on the Hebrew language to future generations and elevating it, will lead to successfully tackling some of these major challenges such as assimilation, Jewish identity, combating anti-Semitism, and Aliyah. Fostering international Hebrew awareness should serve as an internal compass for all Jews around the world, one that will sharpen their connection to Israel, deepen their sense of belonging and perhaps ultimately pave the way to making Aliyah.

The real challenge is to strengthen the status of the Hebrew language in the Diaspora. As the umbrella organization for all Jews worldwide, the World Zionist Organization must take responsibility, lead processes in Jewish communities, and place Hebrew as a central pillar in Jewish education, culture and way of life. We must recognize Hebrew as gatekeeper, as H.N. Bialik best described it: "language is the guardian of all national assets." We must translate this national responsibility into action, and we must persist with determination. We must insist that Jewish educational institutions allocate significant time to teaching the Hebrew language. We must ask youth movements to hold events in Hebrew. We must provide teachers with the appropriate training and tools to instil the Hebrew language in their students. We must entrench the Hebrew language through Jewish and Israeli culture, and not surrender in the face of arguments of the lack of relevance of Hebrew in Jewish communities around the world. "Hebrew without excuses - simple as that"! stated the head of Betar, Ze'ev Jabotinsky, who believed that the necessary connection between the individual and the nation is language, "through which one becomes used to articulating his thoughts and expressing his feelings."

During these days of distance learning, the need for a supportive community, and a sense of closeness and belonging, is intensifying. Throughout this challenging time we must build connections with our brothers and sisters overseas and establish a common language with them. The Hebrew language unites us all, and we are required to help Diaspora Jews think in Hebrew, dream in Hebrew, feel an integral part of the Jewish people, and make the national language feel like their home.

The author is the Head of the Department for Hebrew and Culture at the World Zionist Organization